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How can we manage this internet thing? The Euro gov needs YOU

Help us make up our minds with yet another consultation

The European Commission is asking for help in drawing up laws to govern the internet. On Thursday it launched yet more public consultations designed to inform bureaucrats attempting to help create the digital single market.

The two new consultations are so broad as to be almost unmanageable: one on “geo-blocking” and the other one on “platforms”.

According to the Commission, platforms include everything from search engines to social media sites, app stores to cloud computing, news aggregators to payment systems.

EU Digi Veep Andrus Ansip said questions need to be asked about platforms’ “transparency and use of content”, while digital Commissioner Günther H-dot Oettinger added “we need a deeper understanding of the role that they play and of the way they interact with other businesses and with consumers”.

One of the areas the pair want opinions on is the extent to which online intermediaries should be liable for illegal content hosted online – for example hate speech, child abuse content or content that infringes intellectual property rights.

Bizarrely, although intellectual property and copyright is tackled in the platforms consultation, it is completely absent from the geo-blocking questionnaire.

Ansip is famously anti-geo-blocking and is now looking to the public for the ammunition he needs to do something about it:

Geo-blocking too often reroutes or blocks consumers based on their nationality or place of residence; this is not helpful for fostering e-commerce since it frustrates the consumers, and it is even less helpful for increasing cross-border e-commerce which is to the benefit of both consumers and businesses.

This consultation aims to gather views and information about the experiences and difficulties encountered by users and businesses when they access or provide information, and shop or sell across borders in the EU.

For example, customers who are charged different prices or offered a different range of goods depending on where they live.

The feedback from the consultations will be used to help draft new laws expected in the first part of 2016 and industry is, as always, concerned about “over-regulation”.

“The Commission had no choice but to put platforms on the agenda following pressure from France and Germany. Now that it is beginning this assessment, it will need to think carefully about the implications for the economy as whole," said Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) Europe vice president, James Waterworth.

"If there are problems, someone will need to be more precise about what exactly they are and why they can’t be dealt with under existing regulations, such as competition, consumer and privacy law,” he added.

The Commission wants to hear from citizens, manufacturers, retailers (especially SMEs), rights-holders, data and cloud service providers and users, as well as all those involved in the collaborative economy.

The consultation is open until the end of the year, bringing the total number of open Commission consultations in the tech sector to seven, with another three expected in the coming weeks.

It’s almost as though the Commission doesn’t really know what it wants to do without being told. ®

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